SUISUN CITY -- If it proves as easy as calling for a taxi when you need a ride anywhere in Solano County, a pilot program could go a long way toward improving transportation services for senior citizens and the disabled.Transit officials unveiled the new inter-city taxi program for senior and disabled riders Friday during the second Senior and Disabled Transportation Summit. Nearly 200 people attended the conference, which focused on solutions to the myriad problems these riders face in using public transportation.
The inter-city taxi service, the first of a multiphase program, could go into effect in early 2010, Vacaville transit manager Brian McLean said. Taxi operators are committed and proposals are being written, he added.
"Why taxi service? Because it's flexible, and it operates 24 hours, seven days a week," McLean said.
In using the new service, qualified riders would call the taxi company in their cities and be transported anywhere in Solano County, McLean said. These riders would pay 15 percent of the regular taxi cab price, he added.
Efforts are also in the works to secure a $250,000 Caltrans New Freedom grant to help fund it, McLean said.
Vacaville senior Russ Cayler liked the proposal, saying it is "badly needed," particularly if people want to go between cities.
The first phase would serve only ambulatory disabled and senior riders, who are certified as disabled by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) but still can get in and out of a vehicle on their own. These riders could continue to use paratransit, or subsidized, services, if they wanted, McLean said.
The second phase would continue to build on existing taxi services and expand to serve riders in wheelchairs and others who need substantial assistance getting in and out of vehicles.
New services would be an improvement over waiting for chronically late buses and paratransit vans, Vacaville senior Erla Frederick said
Fairfield resident Vera Aitemon, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said she looks forward to the new program.
"I hope it does work and I hope it's going to take effect soon," Aitemon said. She said she's had many problems using paratransit, citing a driver who recently left her stranded after a doctor's appointment.
In the new service, riders would not have to engage in cumbersome, often frustrating, advance scheduling, McLean said. Further, they would not have to share vehicles, which can result in long rides and scheduling complications, he said.
A strong marketing plan will be key to assuring the pilot program works, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Elderly and Disabled Advisory Committee member Richard Burnett of Vallejo said.
Friday, Solano Transit Authority officials unveiled the county's first senior and disabled transportation guide -- a one-page pamphlet detailing each city's bus, tax, ferry and taxi services and how to contact them.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Solano, and other speakers encouraged the county to keep transportation improvements on the front burner, but stressed that substantial progress likely would not be made without new funding, such as a sales tax increase.
"You need a sales tax increase or some other kind of mechanism," Wolk said. "There is no other way to do it."
Solano voters last defeated a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation in 2002. STA Executive Director Daryl Halls said there are no immediate plans to try again. Passage would require two-thirds voter approval.